The PGA Tour leaves California this week and heads east for the start of the Florida Swing, a month of brilliant tournaments on superb golf courses, which begins with The Honda Classic, the traditional curtain raiser to this part of the calendar.
Matt Jones was the dominant force around PGA National last year and he is back looking to defend the title. The field this week isn’t as strong as the last few on the West Coast but it still looks very competitive.
2021 – Matt Jones
2020 – Sungjae Im
2019 – Keith Mitchell
2018 – Justin Thomas
2017 – Rickie Fowler
2016 – Adam Scott
2015 – Padraig Harrington
2014 – Russell Henley
2013 – Michael Thompson
2012 – Rory McIlroy
We are at the PGA National as ever this week. This is renowned for being one of the toughest par 70s on the circuit and that is proven by the winning score often being in single digits, which doesn’t happen very often on the PGA Tour these days. The trickiness comes in the form of the ‘Bear Trap’ which is the three holes 15-17 where the water is heavily in play and nerves are likely to be jangling, especially if the wind is up like it often is during this stage of the Florida Swing.
You have to strike the ball well around here. Length can come in handy but it doesn’t take priority over accuracy. There is an exposed element to this track so being able to handle the wind is another requisite and as with all tough courses scrambling abilities are essential. You need to play this course from the fairway with pinpoint iron shots and a decent putter the way forward. It is a true all-round test and a great way to start the Florida Swing.
We have been used to elite fields in recent times and even though there is no DP World Tour event this week the overall standard has dipped a little for this tournament, although with Bay Hill and The Players to come in the next fortnight that isn’t a huge surprise. We do still have the last three champions in the field though in the form of the defending champion Matt Jones, Sungjae Im and Keith Mitchell, the latter two of whom will be looking to regain their title.
There are still some standout names looking to stop that from happening though. Daniel Berger should have won around here some years ago but lost out to Padraig Harrington in a playoff. He’s back for more while Brooks Koepka and last week’s winner Joaquin Niemann are both in the field this week. The European charge will be headed up by Ryder Cup pair Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood, while Louis Oosthuizen is another standout name in a field which also includes Billy Horschel and Matthew Wolff among others.
Sungjae Im was the winner here in 2020 and he was in the top 10 when he attempted to defend the title last year so he has good vibes around PGA National. He is the 12/1 favourite to win the title this week and having already won the Shriners Open this term we know he can still win decent events. His form has been up and down since then but he was in the top 10 at Torrey Pines a few weeks ago and was far from disgraced at Riviera last week. He sets a good standard but might just be on the skinny side for my liking.
Daniel Berger is the second favourite this week at 16/1. He was second on debut in 2015 and then fourth last year and might have the benefit that some of his rivals don’t have of having had a week off last week. He missed the cut in Phoenix the week before which doesn’t inspire confidence but on any track where ball striking is of the utmost importance you should never write Berger off. I would probably favour him over Im this week but I still think better value lies elsewhere even allowing his record around PGA National.
Brooks Koepka is an interesting third favourite at 20/1. His record in regular PGA Tour events is no secret for being very poor but there were signs that he might be out to improve that when he was third in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago. He won there the year before though so I just wonder if that happens to be a course which suits his eye because either side of that he missed the cut at Torrey Pines and Riviera, two placed where you would think he could contend. Koepka was second here in 2019 which might lure one of two towards him this week but he’s too short even allowing for how good he is.
Louis Oosthuizen and Billy Horschel come next in the betting at 22/1. This will be just the second start of 2022 for Oosthuizen and although his ball striking ability has to be respected his record around here is terrible with no top 20 finish in six attempts. He has also never won a regular PGA Tour event so he’s plenty short enough. Horschel hasn’t won in America since he claimed the Matchplay title last year but he won the BMW PGA Championship and ended the West Coast Swing 11-6 in the Farmers then the Phoenix Open. He has two top 10s around here and has to be respected.
Billy Horschel hasn’t won a stroke play event in America for coming up to five years but he has won twice worldwide in the last 12 months and looks to be striking the ball really well. I still have it in my head that he was talking about setting high goals when he gave one of those on course interviews at one of the European Tour events last term. It might well have been the BMW PGA Championship which he won and that is significant because it is the long game that is tested around Wentworth, much like it is here. Horschel is hitting a lot of fairways at the minute. In two of his last four starts he has finished in the top 10 in fairways hit and that has been in better fields than this. He is also gaining strokes with the putter like a lunatic at the minute and as a Florida man he’ll be right up for this. I think he’s a standout bet this week.
The other man who I think can go well is another local player in Shane Lowry. The US base of the Irishman is close to PGA National so he certainly shouldn’t be inconvenienced by conditions and will probably have a fair bit of support. The wind is expected to be up a little this week which will definitely bring Lowry into play because he is one of the best players in the wind in the game, as he showed when he won The Open back in 2019. Lowry had a good spin in the desert on the DP World Tour and the Saudi event with finishes of 9-12-24-14. His long game stats in that event were good too with him 5-31-15-9 in fairways hit in decent fields and 4-14-11-23 in greens in regulation. The putter never played ball in any of those events which is a surprise because he is usually a very good putter but if it comes to life here Lowry should have a great chance on a course he knows well.
Whenever there is a premium on hitting fairways over smacking the ball a country mile Lucas Glover is never far from my shortlist because he is a relentlessly strong driver of the golf ball. He ranks 11 on the PGA Tour for driving accuracy this season but five of those above him are not in the field this week so he is effectively sixth in that discipline here. He is also very good into the greens and he has a couple of top 10 finishes around here. Glover was fifth at the Sony Open earlier in the season but this shorter, tighter track suits his strengths a lot more and I think he is worth backing here.
Aaron Rai came over from the European Tour as one of the straight drivers of the ball on that side of the pond and he has already done some good work on the PGA Tour. He isn’t the longest hitter though so some of the events so far has seen him swimming against the tide in that respect. He was sixth at Torrey Pines where he was out in the latter groups on Sunday so he’s had a taste of being in contention at this level and has a track where he can strike this week. His last seven recorded starts have seen his driving accuracy rank being 21-15-4-5-15-23-7, in much stronger fields than this in the most part. He hasn’t been quite as good into the greens with just three top 25 rankings in that time but he has been playing on courses too long for him. That isn’t the case here and given that his only other Florida start yielded a top 20 I think he is worthy of support here.
Padraig Harrington has won three regular PGA Tour events and two of them have been this very tournament and with signs that he is in good touch over on the Desert Swing on the DP World Tour I think he is worth a go here. We know that if the wind blows he’ll be advantaged more than most so that is a big thing. Harrington has three top 12 finishes in his last five starts on the European Tour/DP World Tour and he had a hit in the Champions Tour last week to acclimatise to conditions here in Florida. That makes me think that he is up for this week. Three starts ago he gained more than 11 shots from tee to green in a deep field at the Dubai Desert Classic so he is hitting the ball well with the long clubs. We know his short game is always in decent order so he could be a big price to complete a hat trick of Honda wins.
Back B.Horschel to win The Honda Classic (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 23.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back S.Lowry to win The Honda Classic (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back L.Glover to win The Honda Classic (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back A.Rai to win The Honda Classic (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)
Back P.Harrington to win The Honda Classic (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Coral (1/5 1-8)
Back him here: